Willow shifts direction
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ConocoPhillips cancels gravel island; BLM to open new comment period in spring
As Scott Jepsen predicted in his presentation at the Resource Development Council in November, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said Jan. 6 that it intends to issue a supplemental draft environmental impact statement for ConocoPhillips’ proposed Willow oil field and open a new public comment period in the spring for the project’s revised Master Development Plan.
The supplemental EIS will be based on changes made by the company in response to stakeholder concerns and public comments regarding development of the giant Willow discovery, which is in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
The ConocoPhillips Alaska senior vice president told RDC attendees that “one of the more contentious elements of our plan was our desire to build an offshore gravel island” where the company would bring in modules in the summer “and then build an ice road down to our location in the wintertime.”
ConocoPhillips, he said, came up with another option to “bring the modules ashore at Oliktok Point” and transport them to Willow “via a combination of ice roads and gravel roads,” which was something the company did not initially think it could do.
“But we’ve done a lot more work since the initial submission and think this could actually work,” Jepsen said.
“It’s exciting to see the level of public involvement in determining responsible development of our natural resources in Alaska,” BLM Alaska State Director Chad Padgett said Jan. 6. “Since the new module transport option and other project changes are outside the scope of the original analysis, developing a supplemental draft EIS affords the public an opportunity to provide input on the revised plan as they did on the original draft.”
The Willow project proposal, BLM said in its press release, includes the construction, operation and maintenance of an oil and gas development 30 miles west of Alpine in the NPR-A Bear Tooth unit that may include one central processing facility, an infrastructure pad, up to five drill pads with up to fifty wells on each pad, access and infield roads, an airstrip, pipelines and a gravel mine.
Startup date appears unchangedWillow is “anticipated to have a peak production of 130,000 barrels of oil per day over its 30-year life - producing approximately 590 million barrels of oil - and would help offset declines in production from the North Slope oil fields and contribute to the local, state and national economies,” the agency said.
ConocoPhillips recently upped its estimated ultimate recovery from Willow to 800 million barrels. The cost of development will be between $4 billion and $6 billion gross and involve more than 2,000 construction jobs and 300 permanent positions.
As for when Willow will begin producing oil, BLM said prior to this latest announcement it would be as early as fourth quarter 2024, although a slide in Jepsen’s RDC presentation said first oil would be in 2025-26, which is consistent with what the company has been saying for the last couple of years.
Neither Jepsen nor BLM have said if the new public comment period will delay the startup of the field, but a Petroleum News source said not building the gravel island will likely mitigate any delay caused by the new public comment period.
BLM confirmed what Jepsen said; that the supplemental draft EIS will primarily address a revision that removes construction of a module transfer island previously analyzed in Alternative B of the draft EIS. ConocoPhillips’ new proposal replaces construction of the island with a plan to transport modules via sealift barge to an existing dock at Oliktok Point “for ice road transport across the Colville River near Ocean Point,” the agency said.
ConocoPhillips’ updated proposal “contains design optimizations for each project component of Alternative B, in addition to the new module transport option, and the supplemental draft EIS will be developed with information provided by the BLM, cooperating agencies and various stakeholders,” BLM said.
The agency expects to have the supplemental draft EIS available for review and comment in “Spring 2020.”
For a link to the Willow Master Development Plan Environmental Impact Statement site, along with all other current BLM Alaska planning efforts, visit www.blm.gov/alaska/comment123.